Participation of Civil Society

The role of non-state actors has gained increasing importance in fostering economic, social and political development throughout the region.  The participation of civil society organizations (CSOs) in the Inter-American system reflects this growing trend to incorporate non-governmental voices into its work at the local, national and regional levels.  This page will examine CSO involvement in the Summit process, in the OAS and throughout the hemisphere.

Civil Society and the Summits of the Americas Process

First Summit of the Americas – Miami – Declaration of Principles

In the pursuit of a strong and diverse democracy – one with depth and durability – the Heads of State and Government at the First Summit of the Americas, celebrated in Miami, Florida, in 1994, recognized the importance of including individuals, the private sector, labor and political parties, academics and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in establishing an accountable and transparent framework for such democracy. Public participation is vital to the success of any democracy and the Heads of State and Government recognized that Civil Society Organizations are effective in facilitating civic engagement in policy issues and encouraging valuable public philanthropy.

Summit on Sustainable Development – Santa Cruz, Bolivia

At the Summit of the Americas on Sustainable Development, held in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, in 1996, Heads of State and Government decided to promote greater spaces to express ideas and exchange information on sustainable development between groups, organizations, businesses and individuals.

To support the specific initiatives regarding the promotion of public participation in decision-making for sustainable development from previous and future Summits of the Americas, Heads of State and Government decided that the recommendations of the 1996 Montevideo Inter-American Seminar on Public Participation should be followed. These promote a strategy for the exchange of experiences and information among government and Civil Society Organizations regarding the formulation, implementation and improvement of sustainable development policies and programs. The recommendations also include the establishment of regional level consultation processes and the integration and strengthening of national sustainable development councils.

Second Summit of the Americas – Santiago Declaration and Plan of Action

At the Second Summit of the Americas, which took place in Santiago, Chile, in 1998, the Heads of State and Government recognized that education is ‘the determining factor for the political, social, cultural and economic development of our peoples’, and they further recognized the need to encourage civil society participation in educational development.

In addition, the Second Summit reiterated the importance of strengthening a more active public participation in the development of civil society and its relationship with democracy. The Santiago Plan of Action calls on Member States’ governments and respective CSOs to promote the development of principles and recommendations for institutional frameworks to stimulate the formation of responsible and transparent democratic organizations. It also encourages greater dialogue and partnerships with governments in which the OAS can serve as a forum for the exchange of information and experiences.  

The Santiago Plan of Action established the Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG) which bears responsibility for ensuring the implementation by Member States’ governments of the mandates of this and future Summits of the Americas. The SIRG group holds bi- or tri-annual meetings to assess the degree to which the Summit mandates have been fulfilled and will annually report on the progress achieved in the fulfillment of this and future Plans of Action. 

Third Summit of the Americas – Quebec City Plan of Action

At the Third Summit of the Americas, held in Quebec City in April, 2001, the Heads of State and Government viewed positively the contributions of civil society to the Quebec City Plan of Action and called upon all citizens of the Americas to contribute to the Summit process.  At the same time, they recognized the important role civil society has in the consolidation of democracy and stated that their participation in government programs is one of the most essential resources for successful development policies.

Heads of State and Government charged the OAS and other multilateral organizations and development banks with the development of strategies for enhancing civil society capabilities in the Inter-American system.  At the same, such measures have increased the institutional capacity of Member States' governments to receive, absorb and act on the input and support of Civil Society Organizations.

Heads of State and Government also committed to developing educational programs in cooperation with civil society in order to strengthen democracy and promote respect for human rights and the ethnic, cultural and religious diversity of the hemisphere.  The Quebec City Plan of Action calls for a series of seminars and meetings among experts, CSOs and government officials for increasing acceptance, understanding, appreciation and respect of the linguistic and cultural diversity of the peoples of the region.

The Quebec Summit also recognized the expectation that businesses that work within the Hemisphere must carry out their operations in a manner consistent with their social and environmental responsibilities. The Quebec City Plan of Action reiterates the importance of consulting Civil Society Organizations and the private sector for the continued analysis of compliance with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) business practices.

Heads of State and Government promote the role of CSOs – along with technical professionals and regional and educational institutions – in the development and implementation of disaster management policies at both national and community levels. Furthermore, the Heads of State and Government acknowledge the contributions of CSOs in promoting national strategies for the sustainable development of agriculture and increasing standards of living in rural areas.

With the adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the Heads of State and Government instruct the OAS to develop programs destined to strengthen the democratic culture in order to promote good governance, effective management and values, taking into account contributions by CSOs. 

Participation of Civil Society Organizations in the OAS

The Committee on Civil Society Participation in OAS Activities was created by the OAS in June 1999, in order to establish clear, transparent and modern procedures for interaction between CSOs and the political organs of the OAS.  As a result of this goal, the Permanent Council approved a set of guidelines which provide the framework for CSO participation in OAS activities.  Along with this set of guidelines, an accreditation process was approved that allows for the creation of an official and on-going relationship between accredited CSOs and the Organization.  More information on the Committee and its accomplishments can be found here

A list of the accredited CSOs in the OAS is also available; click here.

Civil society participation throughout the hemisphere

In order to incorporate a greater number of CSOs in the preparatory process for the Quebec City Summit of the Americas, Corporación PARTICIPA (Chile), in partnership with the ESQUEL Group Foundation (United States) and FOCAL (Canada), coordinated a six-month consultation process with almost 900 CSOs throughout the hemisphere.  This process, which included 18 national consultations, generated 243 proposals on issues from the Quebec City Plan of Action, which were discussed and prioritized at a hemispheric meeting that took place in Miami, on January 18-20, 2001.  The final document was then presented at the January 12, 2001, meeting of the Special Committee on Inter-American Summits Management (CEGCI) and, subsequently, at the XXI SIRG.

This collaborative effort has been continued after the Heads of State and Government met at the Quebec City Summit of the Americas.  Corporación PARTICIPA is now coordinating a project entitled "Strengthening Civil Society in Multilateral Processes," with the help of ESQUEL and FOCAL.  This project was initiated to fulfill the following objectives: to design a monitoring strategy of the Quebec City Plan of Action for CSOs, to create more opportunities for dialogue between CSOs and governments regarding multilateral processes and to formulate recommendations for the SIRG on civil society participation in the implementation of Summit mandates.  The consultation will culminate in a hemispheric workshop that will take place in Quito, Ecuador, on April 15, 2002.

For more information on this consultation process, please click here.


The Summits of the Americas Information Network has accumulated a list of CSOs that work throughout the region in a variety of Summit issues.  To see this list, please click here.